Council looks at annexation, security, zoning at retreat

BLYTHEWOOD – The annual town council retreat held Saturday at The Manor focused on annexation, zoning, the farmers market, security for council meetings, the budget and more, including a presentation by Jay Bender, media attorney who represents the S. C. Press Association. Bender discussed ways governments can be more open and achieve transparency by complying with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Zoning and Land Use

S.C. media attorney Jay Bender discussed the state’s Freedom of Information Act. | Barbara Ball

Town administrator Brian Cook opened saying the planning commission will soon begin review the town’s comprehensive land use plan as well as the master plan. He specifically discussed zoning categories – the number of the town’s commercial zoning categories (six) and the number of zoning categories in general which he feels may be excessive for a town Blythewood’s size.

“While larger municipalities have a need for more zoning categories, I’m not sure a small town like Blythewood needs as many as we have,” Cook told The Voice.

He said much of the comprehensive plan is outdated and that the planning commission needs to be looking it over as they prepare to work with the Midlands Council of Government or another organization to develop a new comp plan next year for Blythewood.

“The comp plan is a guide for future zoning,” Cook reminded council members. “We need to know how we want to grow and where we want to grow or not grow. We can be wide open for development; we can be a little more cautious with development or we can put the brakes on development altogether,” Cook said.

Cook also suggested that the town’s master plan, which was created in March, 2019, be reviewed.

“It’s a fluid document and we need to update our priorities on a regular basis,” he said.

Annexation

Annexation was high on Mayor Bryan Franklin’s campaign list when he ran for office last fall. His goal, he said at a recent town council workshop, is to annex the entire 29016 Blythewood zip code.

To that end, town attorney Jim Meggs explained to council the three kinds of annexation methods available to the town besides volunteer agreements to annex into the town.

“Freeholders (any person owning at least 1/10th interest in a parcel) can voluntarily sign a petition to annex into a town,” Meggs said. “A town can aggregate several tracts if those freeholders sign the petition. This can, however, leave holes of unannexed parcels circled by the town.”

Meggs said legislation is in committee now to allow towns to annex those holes by force if they are less than 25 acres and have been circled by the town for more than five years. This is referred to as the enclave method of annexation.

“Before annexation of any property can take place, it must be contiguous with the town and it cannot be part of another town,” Meggs said.

Water Covenant Annexation

“If the town cannot convince freeholders to annex voluntarily, the town can, if it offers water, use water covenants to bind the freeholder to sign an annexation petition, if present, when that property becomes contiguous with the town,” Meggs said. “That’s not to say, however, that the utility wouldn’t cut your water off [if you didn’t comply],” he added. Meggs said Fort Mill once used that tactic successfully to force annexation of a large swath of properties.

75 Percent Annexation

A second annexation method is the 75 percent petition method. If the town wants to annex an area, it must get signatures of freeholders who own at least 75 percent of the total assessed value of the subject properties the town is seeking to annex. With this method, the town is required to specify what services the town will provide the properties when they are annexed. The 75 percent can force the unwilling 25 percent of the properties in the subject area to annex.

25 Percent Annexation

If 25 percent of registered electors [not property owners] in a subject area outside of town sign an annexation petition and get certified, there would be an election conducted on the question of whether to be annexed or not, Meggs said. But if a majority of the electors vote in favor of annexing into the town, then the town can annex the territory.

Under this method, owners of large parcels over 25 acres can opt out. This method was used unsuccessfully last year by the Fairfield County town of Jenkinsville.

A technical feature of the 25 percent annexation method is that if the election is successful, then 5 percent of the electors of the town can present a petition denying or confirming the annexation.

Security

Councilman Donald Brock raised the question of whether council should have security present at all council meetings. He suggested that while there is not a hostile environment at council, he said it was the consensus of those attending a recent municipal institute session that government meetings should hire security to be present during all town meetings. It was suggested that security cover planning commission, board of zoning appeals meetings as well as other meetings.

“So the question I propose is, does the Town of Blythewood need security at town meetings?” Brock said. “No one would have thought years ago that someone would walk into an elementary school and do what they did. But I’m not trying to instill any sort of fear or angst or nervousness.”

“I don’t want it to look intimidatng. I don’t want it to look like a Richland County meeting where you try to speak and the police come and get you. That’s not what we do in Blythewood,” Franklin said.

Franklin said council would further discuss the issue at the next meeting.

Other issues

Council also discussed the following:

  • whether to build a farmer’s market building in the park to accommodate not only the market but other events, such as the artist guild’s spring and winter events that required indoor settings.
  • whether to incorporate the use of filming/video, streaming and uploading council meetings to various online platforms,
  • what parameters should be set for determining who should receive A-tax and H-tax funds and how those awarded the funds should handle profits.

These subjects will be discussed in more detail at future council meetings.